Learning how to wild camp (also commonly known as free camping or stealth camping) is one of the most important skills an independent bike tourist can master.
There are many reasons why it’s good to be comfortable with wild camping.
- Bicycle travel is unpredictable. You never know how weather, terrain, energy levels, flat tires and other factors will affect your distance for the day. Even if you plan on sticking to populated areas and staying in campsites or hotels, these uncertainties mean you should be prepared if you don’t reach your expected destination.
- Wild camping will help you travel on a budget. This is especially true in developed countries, where camping can be in countries where camping tends to be very expensive — sometimes almost as much as a cheap hotel.
- Camping in the wild is often the most attractive option. Many of the most gorgeous places in the world are (thankfully) far from hotels and campsites. If you want to spend the night, you’ll need to wild camp. In some areas, you’ll also find that local campsites and hotels are overpriced or unclean, which again makes wild camping the most attractive option.
Dealing With Fear
For many people, the thought of wild camping is daunting. You may worry about the police coming to move you on or trouble in the middle of the night from strangers or animals.
This was certainly true for Friedel, who hardly slept at all when we first started putting our tent up in the woods. As another cycle tourist said, she could hear an ant fart in the night. If you are like this, just give it time. Build up your confidence slowly and don’t become discouraged. These types of fears are natural. The more you camp out, the more you’ll realise how safe wild camping is.
It may reassure you to know that during all of our 3-year long world trip (and the many shorter trips we’ve done since), we’ve never been troubled by anyone approaching our tent. That doesn’t mean we were never spotted but it was always a positive experience.
In the Middle East, for example, shepherds often came to find out where we were from and this would lead to invitations to meet their families. Sometimes they would return with treats like fresh bread of homemade yogurt. In India, numerous cyclists reported waking up to find dozens of people outside their tent or even inquisitive farmers unzipping the tent door to find out who was inside!
No matter where you are in the world, you are very unlikely to be bothered by anyone as long as you are respectful and follow some basic guidelines:
- Find a spot away from houses and hidden from any roads. You want to be out of sight of passersby. Look on your map for areas marked as woodland, which often offer good camping potential. You may also find that small hills by the side of the road can give you cover if you just haul your bike up to the peak and over the other side.
- Don’t trespass. Look for somewhere you can camp without jumping fences or crossing onto marked private property.
- Don’t camp in dry riverbeds as they can come to life overnight with a little rain. The rain may fall several kilometres away from you but a stream can still end up flooding through your tent! Equally, camping spots near water like a lake or riverbank can be cooler at night than more inland areas. Read more.
- In bear country, cook at least 200 meters away from your tent. String all your food and garbage up in a tree.
- Don’t start a fire or do anything else that might attract attention, like playing loud music.
- Leave early the next morning. Take all your garbage with you.
If You Can’t Find A Wild Camping Spot
Sometimes it’s hard to find a wild camping spot and if this happens to you, it’s worth asking local people if they know where you could put your tent. Most people are friendly and obliging. In this way, we’ve received offers to stay in back gardens, in people’s homes or been shown safe places we wouldn’t otherwise have stayed.
In Iran and Thailand, for example, this approach led to introductions to the local police or fire brigade, who found a place for us on their land.
Such overnight stays can’t technically be called wild camping (the term ‘wild’ implies camping on unimproved land and in an area where you are hidden) but it serves the same purpose: giving you a free and safe place to sleep in an area where formal tourist accommodation isn’t an option.
Remember, however, that as soon as you start asking locals for help you may also become the star of the town. Be prepared to spend your evening talking to people or being shown around the neighbourhood. Another option, if you think that finding wild camping spots or formal hotels and campsites may be difficult in an area, is to plan in advance and try to arrange a stay with members of hospitality clubs such as Warm Showers.
To read more about wild camping, try looking at these excellent thoughts by other cycle tourists: